This Sunday I will be travelling up to Liverpool for the funeral of an old friend which takes place in the city’s cathedral the following morning. Myles Dempsey passed away on 12th of this month after suffering a heart attack. He had celebrated his ninetieth birthday on 1st May, the feast of Joseph the Worker.
Indeed, Myles himself was a tireless worker in the vineyard of the Lord. As a younger man he was a member of the Catholic Evidence Guild and on many occasions stood before large and sometimes intimidating crowds witnessing to the Faith.
Later in the 1970’s he became involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and ran two prayer meetings one in St Patrick’s Church in Soho and the other from his home in New Eltham where he lived with his wife Joan and three children. I attended both of these weekly gatherings in the 1980’s as I sought a deeper understanding of my faith and endeavoured to discern my vocation. What eventually evolved from the meetings was a charismatic lay community which became known as The Prince of Peace Community beginning life in Greenwich.
Five years later in 1989 the community moved to the convent of the Sacred Heart Sisters in Foxgrove Road in Beckenham. Some of you I know will have attended the prayer meetings there and become well acquainted with Myles during their four year stay. The community membership quickly expanded as did the numbers attending the prayer meetings. It wasn’t uncommon for around 200 people to come through the doors on a Monday evening. There was even an enthusiastic youth prayer meeting every week.
It would have been some achievement by Myles if it ended there but in a sense the best was yet to come with what became known as the New Dawn Conference at the Marian Shrine of Walsingham in Norfolk, an annual event from 1987 to the present day. This is what he will be best remembered for. Since its conception around 3,000 people have come each year from the UK and all over the world to attend the conference, to listen to inspirational national and international lay, clerical and religious speakers, attend workshops on a variety of subjects and above all to celebrate daily Mass.
Many qualities come to mind when I look back at Myles’ life: He was a gifted and often fiery speaker, he would often spend hours praying over people who came to him with all manner of problems and difficulties, and his deep prayerfulness and his great love of the scriptures come readily to mind.
But the aspect I would like to highlight is his capacity to draw so many people into the Faith, into the Church, whether it was bringing them in for the first time, encourag-ing them to return or strengthening those whose faith had become tepid. He had so much certainty, conviction and enthusiasm that it was impossible to resist.
There were many reasons why countless numbers of people both young and old, male and female, lay and clergy wanted to become involved in the life and work of the lay community and with the New Dawn Conference and certainly Myles could never have achieved what he did without the support of others. But the bearing of so much fruit was largely down to a man who was relentless in his desire to respond to the will of God and who humbly realised that nothing could be achieved without openness to and cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
As we wrestle with the issue of how the laity can become more involved in the building up of our parish communities and especially how we can enthuse the young about the gift of faith, I offer the story of Myles who selflessly went the extra mile and encouraged so many others to do the same.